Editor’s Note: This is the first article from Paul, who will bring a statistical and business-oriented look at the Cubs about once a week. He also writes for The Wrigleyville Times. Dan and his Around the League feature will still be in this slot on Saturdays, but he has this week off. He’ll be back next week with his usual look around baseball. – John
There is a reason Theo, Jed, and Jason couldn’t stop using the word “assets” during the complete teardown and rebuild of the entire Cubs organization. If you didn’t know any better, the Cubs FO may have been confused for businessmen. Wait. That’s precisely what they are and the approach they have taken throughout the process of putting the Cubs back into perennial contention.
The FO knew they would take it on the chin during the teardown. Ridding the roster of Zambrano, Soriano, A-Ram, Marmol… I still have a lingering twitch just hearing Marmol’s name. The roster was absolutely decimated within the first eighteen months the FO was in town. However, it was all done with an analyst-like precision.
There is no supporting the idea, argument, or theory that the Cubs could have attempted to contend and rebuild simultaneously anymore. If the FO had attempted to employ that method and appease the critics the organization wouldn’t have a Kris Bryant, a Kyle Schwarber (or Schwarzenneger as autocorrect has so fittingly named him), Albert Almora, Addison Russell, etc. The list goes on and on. If the Cubs had not intentionally positioned themselves to obtain a high draft pick, that type of elite talent would not have been available. To accomplish that goal, the FO took the approach of acquiring short-term free agent assets that had underperformed their career averages the year before and bet that they could maximize those assets internally.
What resulted from that philosophy was:
Disposal of Alfonso Soriano and the acquisition of Corey Black – Black was just recently moved from the rotation to the bullpen in AA. Yankees GM Brian Cashman was furious with ownership after the trade because he felt forced to give away a higher ceiling pitcher for Soriano. Cashman may have been right. Corey currently owns a FIP of 2.88 through 56IP, a 9.96 K/9 rate, a 4.02 BB/9 rate, and hitters are only have a .197 batting average against (career best) him so far this season. Corey could be a key addition to the Cubs down the stretch as they make a push for the playoffs.
Trading Samardjzia (wouldn’t re-sign at a reasonable price) and rent-a-player (at the time) Hammel to acquire Addison Russell – Samardzjia wanted to be paid like an ace. His performance in Oakland the second half of last year and with the White Sox this year has severely cut into what he was going to make on the free agent market. He’s sorely underperformed. Jason Hammel and the “Wizard of Boz” have the type of boss/employee relationship you could only dream of. The numbers prove it. With the Cubs Hammel had a K/BB rate of 4.52. In Oakland that rate plummeted to only 2.57. With the Cubs Hammel enjoyed a FIP of 3.19. In Oakland Hammel had a FIP of 5.10. There is serious chemistry between Hammel and Boz. It shouldn’t be questioned. In return the Cubs acquired the number four ranked prospect in all of baseball, now manning second based for the Cubs, in Addison Russell. Russell’s offensive metrics are effectively average thus far when compared to the rest of the league, impressive for a rookies. His defensive, however, has been impressive. Russell has a UZR of 5.0, a DRS of 7.0, a RAR of 13.1, and his WAR reflects this combination by already stacking up to a 1.4. Over the course of a full season that equates to a WAR +4.2. Not bad for a rookie of just 21 years of age.
Trading Arodys Vizcaino back to Atlanta for OBP specialist Tommy La Stella. La Stella has been an OBP machine throughout his entire minor league career with a .422 OBP in AA in 2013 and a .384 OBP in AAA in 2014. OBP was something severely lacking, especially at the middle infield positions for the Cubs before acquiring La Stella. La Stella would be a perfect fit in the two spot of the batting order, however finding a spot for him to play aside from a super utility role could be challenging when he returns.
The FO played the hand they were dealt, and at this juncture we can say they’ve stacked the deck in their favor going forward. They have remain focused on acquiring versatile high floor, high ceiling assets. Keeping this approach allows them to maximize the return on those assets if they look to make a trade. This is why the Cubs brass is determined to keep Schwarber behind the plate; he creates a higher WAR with that bat as a catcher than in left field. This is why SS/2B Javier Baez was starting to see time at third base before getting injured. The organization as a whole simply enjoys a far greater return, either through production for the organization itself or externally via trade, by having or teaching versatility.
The conversation considering who will have to move where and can they is a moot point. Consider that many of the greats have changed positions. Gary Sheffield, Ferguson Jenkins, Alfonso Soriano, and the (pre-steroids) Alex Rodriguez all changed from their natural middle infielder positions. An athlete is an athlete, an advanced approach at the plate, and elite power are the three fundamentals the Cubs have rebuilt this organization upon. There’s no need to worry about where the players will play. The attention should be focused on where the Cubs enjoy the greatest return on the asset.
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